DANCE OF THE PYTHON
VENDA GIRLS INITIATION
The Venda are a Bantu people living mostly near the South African/Zimbabwe border, south of the Limpopo river. When a Venda girl reaches puberty, her initiation period begins. Her education begins with Vhushu, the “first initiation school” and lasts for several weeks, during which girls learn about womanhood and the importance of female modesty and reserve. In the royal courtyard, the girls are trained to prostrate themselves on the ground with their hands pressed together to show respect for their elders. Next came Tshikanda, a stage that normally occurs every three to five years and is aimed at teaching the young women about Venda history, and their place in the social hierarchy. The final stage, called the Domba, is a year-long initiation held in the royal compound, which prepares the girls for marriage and teaches them about their future as wives and mothers. The initiation culminates in the Domba, or Python Dance, an event that celebrates sexual union, conception, pregnancy, and birth. For the powerful and beautiful Domba dance, the girls form a long line, each pressing her half naked body against the girl in front of her, hips locked and arms undulating rhythmically, mimicking the coiled movements of a python. Venda traditional belief links their creation to Lake Fundudzi, home of the giant python. This sacred creature is echoed in the fertility of every Venda girl, in whose belly is supposed to exist a tiny version of the creation serpent, to be awakened in the Domba dance. Traditional Venda initiation rituals continue to play a very important role in young girls’ lives. Today the schedule of the training is flexible so that the girls can attend school and continue on to university, as well as partake in the traditional Venda rituals of becoming a woman.